The best kind of historical fiction, with characters that ignore the heavy hand of history and instead live their own full...

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THE KNIGHT OF THE SACRED LAKE

A literate, wonderfully written, alluring tale, the second in a trilogy (after Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country), offers a subtle feminist interpretation of the Arthurian legends as it continues the story of Guenevere, forced to choose between love and duty for the sake of her kingdom.

Luminously evoking the sunny uplands of the Summer Country, the splendors of Camelot, and the dark woods where the evil Morgan lurks, Miles celebrates a woman, a queen in her right, and the equal partner of Arthur. Now in her mid-30s, Guenevere is both a mother mourning the death of her only child and a wife taking the measure of her husband—and finding him, despite his many virtues, flawed. Exercising her prerogative, as hereditary Queen of the Summer Country, to choose her own knights, she has turned in love to Lancelot, the Knight of the Sacred Lake, but she is also loyal to Arthur. As high king, he united the smaller kingdoms to defeat the Saxons, but in turn he is now threatened by jealous knights and the vengeful Morgan, his half-sister. A good but not especially intelligent man, Miles’s Arthur was seduced by Morgan and bore him a son, Mordred, the sole heir to the Pendragon dynasty. As Guenevere, accused of murder and witchcraft by the Christians, who scorn the old ways of the goddess, is put on trial, Merlin travels the land in search of Mordred, and Arthur is grievously wounded by a knight serving Morgan. He rallies, but Morgan, whose father was killed by Uther, Arthur’s father, is bent on more mischief. A distraught Guenevere sends Lancelot away and, heartbroken, visits the Lady of the Lake, the ruler of Avalon and guardian of the sacred treasures of the goddess. There, she is comforted by the Lady’s predictions and returns to Camelot, Arthur, and what is to come.

The best kind of historical fiction, with characters that ignore the heavy hand of history and instead live their own full and complex lives. A terrific read.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-609-60623-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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